Monday, August 16, 2010

fortunate fool

Right before I was due to leave South Korea, I was able to visit the honeymoon island of Jeju for an entire week. Much like Hawaii, this tourist hot spot is where people come to lay on the beach, hike all that nature has to offer, and in general, vacation. Mandy and I did our best to see all the beautiful waterfalls, traditional villages, and lava tubes we could.

We even discovered a new and random museum based on trick art. This surprising gem has artwork of all types that play “tricks” on your mind (aka optical illusions) and encourage you to become apart of it. It’s interactive, fun, and leaves you with a camera full of perfect facebook profile shots. It’s hard to describe; it’s best just to see the pictures. (For this you’ll have to check out my tagged pictures on facebook.)

In general, it was a great final week preparing me for the backpacking adventures I was leaving for shortly. One particular day I went for a hike by myself on Mt. Hallasan, Korea’s tallest mountain. I took my sweet time going up and down this dormant volcano thinking I had nothing to be back in time for. When I got to the base though I still had a good half hour walk to the bus stop but decided to reward myself with some orange soda.

The seemingly pesky shop owner made it his business to find out everything about me, including what town I was staying in. I was then informed the final bus of the day had already left 15 minutes ago and it was a good 30 km walk back to where I was staying. (I’m not sure how long that would take to walk. Anywhere from 6-15 hours I’m told.) Taxi services were offered but even if I was willing to pay the outrageous price, I simply didn’t have the funds on me. I insisted on walking and just as I stepped away a teenage boy strolled up and offered his translation services. I told him I didn’t need help; I simply missed the bus and needed to walk. The two Koreans talked it out and then decided to try and find me a ride. They asked around for a bit and just as I thought there was no hope, a man with two young daughters getting ice cream said he was from the city I needed to go. Because that’s how my life usually goes. Just when I’m shit out of luck, a stranger comes in and saves the day.

The man didn’t speak much English but we managed a decent conversation and he not only dropped me off at the hostel door, but gave his number in Seoul and the number of his sister in Jeju and offered her home stay services, free of any charge. I’ve found Koreans to be overall a helpful and kind group of people, a quality I’m relying on for the return of my camera. (I’ll explain later.)

And finally: the concluding chapter on my adventure at the Jeju airport. In a previous blog I mentioned secretly hiding out in the airport to spend the night, even though it was not permitted. I neglected to mention that I thought I was actually Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible and was crawling on all fours, using windows as mirrors, and running up and down staircases and elevators trying to remain elusive to my enemy aka the security guards. It worked for a few hours until I settled at the bottom of a darkened stairwell, one flight above the basement. I was sure the lights being off guaranteed me no one’s interest in that area, until I finally put my head down to rest.

Just then, two construction workers started making their way toward me and without any time to think I dashed, without my shoes, purse, or backpack, down to the dark basement corner. I was convinced they saw my huge pile of things I left in the hall, but somehow they didn’t and continued making their way toward me. I crouched down as low as possible and was amazed to find that they were within a foot and half of me and still hadn’t noticed anything off kilter and continued talking normally. I actually thought I might get away with it.

But when they tried to open the door and I was blocking it, they looked down and literally screamed for their lives. The look on their faces was classic: they thought they were seeing a ghost for sure. They bolted as quickly as they could up the stairs shrieking the whole way and the alarm sounding as well. Just as I poked my head around the corner, one was standing there and when he saw me, he literally jumped into the air and continued running to the main floor. I was both scared to be caught, yet utterly amused by their reactions. I made my way with my hands up saying, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to sleep. I have no where else to go”. I was hoping by showing how pathetic I was would win sympathy.

When they could see me in the light and realized I was not a ghost but instead a peculiar yet harmless white girl, they no longer seem scared. Or even angry. Security was contacted and I showed my flight papers for the morning. It was obvious I didn’t speak Korean so they didn’t bother talking to me, just figuring out amongst themselves what to do with the dirty hippie girl sleeping in the stairwell like a homeless person.

It was already 2 am at this point and there were no taxis or buses available, so I was clear to stay. After some shuffling around, I was settled on the main floor in a chair being watched by one guard. But no one seemed mad; they even kept offering me a fan or a more comfortable chair. I slept the best I could on that cold, hard floor and when 5 am rolled around and the lights came on, I was excused. They took my name but not my passport information and I’m sure the story of the American “ghost” in the hall will live on much longer than any report filed about my disturbance.

A couple of days after returning it was our last night in Korea; sad for me but traumatic for Mandy who’s been living there for an entire year. A full evening of Korean culture was planned: baseball, galbi, and noraebang. Baseball games in Korea are vastly different from those at home. To be honest, they are much more fun. For starters, you can bring your own food and booze. (Score!) But my favorite part is all the cheerleading.

You see, whenever your team is up to bat everyone is standing and singing along with the conductor who is leading the cheers the whole time. Everyone is placed on their prospective team’s side for this because they have “boppers” which are two inflatable tubes you hit together to make noise and wave them in the air according to the chant you’re singing. They sing popular songs that have been re-written in Korean to support specific players and baseball in general. From ‘Macho Man” to Kelley Clarkson, I never knew the words but always enjoyed singing along. It makes the whole event more interactive and fun. (And don’t forget all the soju and beer you can drink the entire time.)

After baseball a big group of us met up for beef galbi, a traditional Korean meal. In the middle of the table is a bbq and the meat is delivered raw and it’s up to the table to cook it themselves. Little aprons are even available to complete the experience. An unlimited number of sides are given and this is where I get to feast.

One of my favorite words here in Korea is ‘service’ and it means for free. You get it everywhere. When you buy milk at the grocery store, you get paper towels (service). If you buy enough drinks at the bar, they will give you dried squid (service). You never know when to expect it or how random it could be, but it always makes me happy. (I suppose that’s the Jew in me though.)

Anywho, when eating beef galbi (or any galbi for that matter) you get as many of the sides as you want and there’s several salads, Kim chi, radishes, bean paste, a scrambled egg thing, and even some soup. All I buy is the rice for a couple of dollars and then I make as many mini lettuce wraps as I want. Even in a very un-vegetarian friendly country, I can still eat beyond what is necessary.

Galbi is a very social and fun way to enjoy dinner and after spending literally hours there (drinking soju…again) we were ready to head out for the night. We met up with some more friends and went for noraebang. This is another truly Korean experience, yet is nothing more than private rooms to rent for karaoke. Not to stereotype or anything, but Asians love two things: taking pictures and singing. Noraebang is a popular activity for groups of young friends and family members of all ages to go and belt out their favorite tunes without the embarrassment of performing in front of strangers. You can even order food and drinks (or be like me and just smuggle in your own booze). Being that Mandy was born with a microphone in her hand and a look-at-me-attitude, we went to noraebang several times, once even just the two of us. It was ridiculous and entertaining every time.

This particular night, our tiny room was crammed with way too many people all singing loudly and vying for the microphone. It was the most fun noraebang yet. And unfortunately this is where my memory starts to fade. We went to another bar but I apparently fell asleep on the table and even in the bathroom a bit (big shock). After sunrise we taxied it home and it seems that I crashed in Mandy’s bed fully clothed and with her in it. She politely slept on the floor but I was still utterly confused when I woke up in the morning in her bed and her on the floor.

And I was missing my camera.

Now I know I’ve had some shit luck on this trip with my camera, wallet, and phone but I still believe there is a chance it’s coming back to me. I’ve already left the country without it but luckily have a friend still living there who is fluent in Korean and she has offered to make phone calls and keep me updated if it turns up. Koreans as a group are very good about returning things and not stealing and if I stood a chance anywhere in the world, it’s there. But I’m not holding my breath. It’s just a shame it happened my last night. (Plus I lost a lot of photos I hadn’t saved to my computer yet and the brand new camera case my mom sent to me only a week prior. Insert sad face here.)

The next day I did my best to sleep through a God awful hangover and pack for Vietnam. Mandy cooked all of her leftover food for her closest friends and goodbyes were sadly said. Soon enough Mandy and I were on our way to begin the adventure that is backpacking. Hostels, street food, and overnight buses are all on the agenda for the next two months. Let’s hope nothing is so bad it can’t be fixed by a beer and the re-telling of the story.


  1. You should have snapped a picture of the guys faces when they found you. Haha only you could encounter something like that! Your time has flown by and I can't believe you are off to Vietnam already?!? Have fun and I can't wait to hear all the stories. Luv and miss ya.

  2. I have faith the your camera will return. Remeber when I lost mine in Malta and the amazing pics that were on it when I got it back? Its like a litte gift on top of getting your shit back. I am so happy your having an amazing time!